An Eviction Drive near Dhalpur temple in Assam – The Untold story
By Prasun Goswami
Dhalpur is a village situated in the Char-Chapori area (area flooded by the river) in Sipajhar of Darrang district in Assam. The area is mostly inhabited by Bengali speaking Muslim population, in the evening of June 6, 2021, 49 families residing in the area received a notice to vacate their houses as soon as possible. The very next day the district administration approached the area with JCB and evicted all the 49 households and marked them out of a boundary allegedly belonging to the Dhalpur Temple. The eviction was carried out under the supervision of SP, Sushanta Biswa Sarma, brother of the present Chief Minister of Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma. All these happened when the country is combating the second wave of Corona and after the Gauhati High Court had directed that no eviction can be made during the time of the pandemic.
We visited the region as a part of an independent fact-finding committee to unearth the facts which were otherwise not reported by any media house.
The version of the villagers
As we approached the evicted families, 45-year-old Reshma Khatun (name changed) narrated that on the very day as she saw her home being demolished by the JCB, she somehow managed to run away with her goats. She bruised her leg and it took ten stitches to repair the wound. As she was out of money, she had to sell one of her goats to manage a sum of three thousand Rs which she has spent on her first aid. She was also advised to take an injection worth two hundred Rs but she denied as that was out of her budget. Presently she is distressed as she is overthrown of her agricultural land.
As we called the victims for a meeting, all of them walked to the venue holding plastic bags containing their Voter ID cards, NRC papers and revenue receipts of the lands they were dwelling in.
The epicenter of the conflict
The villagers had settled in that part of the land back in the early 80s. There were three Hindu families among them and others belong to the Bengali-speaking Muslim community. The members of the Hindu families had established a temple there. Out of the three Hindu families, two have migrated to nearby villages in the early 2000s and the remaining family of Karna Das took care of the temple.
The temple evolved over time and eventually a committee to take care of the temple was formed. After the advent of BJP Government in Assam at the year 2016, conflict developed between the temple authorities and the villagers. The temple authorities claimed that around 180 Bighas of agricultural land in Dhalpur belonged to the temple and hence the Muslim families residing in that 180 Bighas should vacate their lands.
Since the year 2016, the villagers have been evicted three times, first in November 2016, second in January 2021 and for the third time in June, 2021. The conflict between both the groups have intensified over time and as a part of the settlement, a boundary of the temple land (120 Bighas) was marked by the Circle Officer in the presence of villagers (as informed to us, no documentation was done of the process) in the year 2016. After being evicted for the second time in January 2021, the villagers were consoled by the SP with an assurance of rehabilitation. But then again, they are evicted for the third time recently.
After Himanta Biswa Sarma sworn in as the CM of Assam, the temple authorities intensified their demand of allocation of 180 Bighas of agricultural land to the temple and eviction of the intruders.
On June 7 the eviction happened, a new boundary for the temple land including the lands of the 49 families have been drawn, 49 families thrown out of the boundary and on 8th June a meeting was conducted on the site of Dhalpur Temple by the seating CM. The highlights of the meeting were that the Assam Government will intensify its drive against encroachment, it has demolished 74 homes in Hojai district of Assam and it has ‘freed’ 120 Bighas of land to be allotted to the Dhalpur Temple (not once did he mention that by the word ‘freed’ he meant the eviction of 49 homes for the third time in a row).
The spectrum of the victims
Along with the Muslim families who lost their lands to the temple, Parvati Das, wife of Late. Kanak Das, caretaker of the temple also lost her land in the eviction process. Kanak Das was the first care taker of this temple and had migrated to the region in early 80s.
The version of the temple authorities
We met Dharmakanta Nath, secretary of the Temple association. He has informed us that the temple is present in the region from the times of Narakasur (some mythological creature). The temple doesn’t have any paper to substantiate its claim over 180 Bighas of land and he produced a pamphlet to us claiming the authority over the land. He said, “Miyas have been eyeing our temple for a long time now and hence they need to be evicted. They (referring to the minorities) have encroached our lands and now they have the audacity to say that they will approach high court. The Government is with us and I will request you all not to interfere in this dispute. The temple will no way leave its land to the Miyas.” As we were heading back to our vehicle, he said, “All of you look so anti-Modi”.
Findings of the fact-finding committee
The fact-finding team comprised activists Pooja Nirala, Mehzabin Rehman, Prasun Goswami and Kashyap Choudhury along with lawyer Shouradeep Dey of HRLN. The team was assisted on the ground by members of the peasant rights group Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU).
Our investigation shows that the 49 evicted families have been living there for more than 40 years now. They must have shifted to this place after the Assam agitation in 1983. As per the present narratives of the dwellers, the temple was built in the year 1984 and Kanak Das was appointed as the caretaker of the temple. For decades the communities over there have lived in harmony.
After 2016, a sudden urge for land grabbing has been instilled in the temple authorities. Even though the communities over there had no problem in the temple being allotted lands in the region, the temple authorities have been eyeing the fertile lands so that they can generate income by offering the land over the contract (the temple is practicing it presently and wants to amplify its income generation).
A sharp rise of anti-sentiments against each other has been noted in both the communities.
It is also to be noted that in the second week of June (after the eviction), the State Government of Assam had a Cabinet meeting where it has decided that, “With a view to utilize 77 thousand bighas of Government land freed from encroachers at Gorukhuti, Sipajhar in Darrang for agricultural purposes, a committee is formed under the chairmanship of MLA Padma Hazarika, MP Dilip Saikia, MLAs Mrinal Saikia and Parmananda Rajbangshi will be other members of the Committee while Secretary and Director, Agriculture Vinod Seshan will act as Member Secretary.”
It is now crystal clear that to unleash its pro-corporate agendas in terms of the Farm Bills, the BJP Government in the state has been playing a shrewd communal agenda to divide the people. Attaching the sentiments of a temple will enable the State Government to generate support of the majority in the state which will smoothen its facilitation of corporate loot in terms of evicting the Muslim dwellers of the Char-Chapori region and then handing over them to the corporates.
This eviction was very cunningly carried by the State Government without any hue or cry in the media. It was presented as allocation of land to a temple whereas the eviction part was totally covered. This issue lays as a dangerous communal bomb which upon exploding may cause communal riots in the state.
The only way out of it is a long legal battle. As informed to us the Minority dwellers of the region have formed an anti-eviction font and are planning to register a case in the High Court.
While the country is witnessing new lows in terms of Islamophobia, this eviction adds one more feather to it.
The writer is a human rights activist from Assam
The views expressed by the writer are personal and may not in any way represent those of TIME8.